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Texas Literary Outlaws

APRIL 1—JULY 31, 2004
TEXAS LITERARY OUTLAWS: Six Writers in the Sixties and Beyond

Texas Literary Outlaws Together Again in New Book & Exhibit

At the height of the Sixties, a group of rowdy Texas writers came together, raising hell and creating memorable literature as they found their voices in opposition to Texas’ conservative traditions. Making use of untapped literary archives, Southwestern Writers Collection assistant curator Steven L. Davis weaves a fascinating portrait of these “literary outlaws” who came of age during a period of rapid social change.

Billy Lee Brammer, Gary Cartwright, Peter Gent, Dan Jenkins, Larry L. King, and Bud Shrake are Texas Literary Outlaws: Six Writers in the Sixties and Beyond. Davis' book is due this May from Texas Christian University Press, and the accompanying exhibit he curated from the Southwestern Writers Collection’s major archives of Brammer, Cartwright, King, and Shrake opens at the SWWC in Texas State's Alkek Library the beginning of April.

A discussion and book signing with Davis will also be held at the Southwestern Writers Collection on June 3 from 4 to 6 pm.

The Texas Literary Outlaws crashed headfirst into the Sixties, and their legendary excesses have often overshadowed their literary production. Davis never shies away from criticism in this no-holds-barred account, yet he also shows how their rambunctious personas have deflected a true understanding of their deeper aims.

Despite their popular image, the six were deadly serious as they turned their gaze on their home state, and they chronicled Texas culture with daring, wit, and sophistication. Taken as a whole, their work establishes an authentic Texas vision, one far removed from the fanciful notions of earlier times. Texas Literary Outlaws adds a welcome chapter to Texas’ social history, providing an illuminating portrait of the state's evolution during the second half of the twentieth century.

Brammer, Cartwright, Gent, Jenkins, King, and Shrake were less interested in Texas’ mythic past than in the world they knew firsthand-a place of fast-growing cities and hard-edged political battles. Choices were clear during the years of social upheaval: Generations of Jim Crow laws were coming under attack; a plutocratic state government was challenged by liberal activists; an undeclared war in Vietnam seemed to defy America's basic principles; discredited “objective” reporting was replaced by a “New Journalism;” and notions of “normalcy” were upended by drugs that provided new ways of perceiving the world.

These writers were all intimately connected to defining Texas elements of the time: the Kennedy assassination, the rapid population shift from rural to urban environments; Lyndon Johnson's rise to national prominence; the Civil Rights movement; Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys; Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker; the birth of a Texas film industry; Texas Monthly magazine; the flowering of “Texas Chic;” and Ann Richards’ election as governor.

With an eye for vibrant detail and a broad historical perspective, Texas Literary Outlaws moves easily between H.L. Hunt’s Dallas mansion and the West Texas oil patch, from the New York literary salon of Elaine's to the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, from Dennis Hopper on a film set in Mexico to Jerry Jeff Walker crashing a party at Princeton University. Davis’ intimate and compelling social history knits the improbable connections together, creating a new understanding of the relationship between Texas and its cultural arts.

Advance commentary on Texas Literary Outlaws: Six Writers in the Sixties and Beyond includes praise from Jim Lehrer. “Here now is a celebration of six good and talented men of Texas who wrote/write stories, both real and imagined, about as well as it can be done. Steve Davis presents them to us whole. Not everything in each picture of the six is-well, perfect. Thank God. Their individual stories, in some cases, are even better than they could have made up. This is a delightful, instructive book. Read it for the what-ifs as well as the whats.”

Steven L. Davis is the assistant curator of the Southwestern Writers Collection and he has worked at the Collection since 1994. He received his master's degree in Southwestern Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos in 1995. He has appeared often in Southwestern American Literature and Texas Books in Review.

The Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State houses the literary papers of Billy Lee Brammer, Gary Cartwright, Larry L. King, and Bud Shrake, among many others.

Original manuscripts, letters, photographs, and memorabilia from these “outlaw” archives are featured in TEXAS LITERARY OUTLAWS at the Southwestern Writers Collection April 1 through July 31, 2004 on the 7th floor of the Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos.